Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fantasy Football: Thou Shall Football wins big!

If any of you have played in a fantasy football league then you would know just how unpredictable it can be. You can draft perfectly, and dominate your league, and still, in the end, lose badly to a team like mine.

That's what happened this year. In the annual Lao Wai Fantasy Football League I had never made the playoffs until this year. My team slipped into the playoffs and ended up winning 3 in a row to clinch the Championship! In a league that's been running for 8 or 9 years, it feels pretty, pretty, pretty good. But how did I get there? What brilliant move did I make during the season to end up on top?

It all started sometime back in September at the draft. I picked Jamal Charles, running back for the KC Chiefs. Well, within a game or two, Mr. Charles hurt his leg and missed the rest of the season. When you lose your first round pick in the first week, it can make you very frustrated. I felt frustrated, but not really surprised. The whole set up is luck. This year, I had a truck load of luck on my side. Or, if I were Tebow, then maybe it was God, but then again, I think that no matter what you believe, God always cheers for the underdog. So, maybe I had luck AND God on my side.

Anyways, the rest of the season when on and I managed to get lucky by having Reggie Bush on my team. He had never been good, or even worth having on your team, until this year. He ran for over 1000 yards for the first time this year on a crappy Dolphins team.

The other thing I had going for me was Matthew Stafford. He had a break out year and, when his team was fighting for a playoff spot in the last few weeks, he was at his best.

Other than those two, I had a great kicker in the 49er's Akers. In the Championship game he kicked a bunch of field goals and finished with 16 points. Aside from those 3, I really had nothing. Desean Jackson had his worst year, Steven Jackson played okay on a horrible team. All of my Jets underachieved. I mean, Dexter McCluster was on my starting roster.

That's all I had to work with.

The key to winning in the playoffs was to have the other teams suck while they played my team. This is very difficult to do. Of the 3 teams I played in the playoffs, their average score was 63 points. That is awful. One of the teams scored 54 points on me, and then the next week in a consolation game scored 142!

My average score in the 3 games was a decent 101. Though, with my team, scoring 101 is an amazing accomplishment.

All that to say that it feels pretty good to win. Though, winning the fantasy baseball league would mean much more to me since it involves more skill and strategy than football. We shall see.

Anyways, with the risk of sounding already too boring and uninteresting, I will leave you here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Music to listen to when you're sad and want to stay there.

About a year ago, we awoke to find Jonas asleep like this.

Not sure what happened to him that night, but all I know is that he's over it now.

I read recently about a woman who suffered from depression. Through all of the talk of dealing and working through it there was one thing in particular that caught my attention. The woman said that, at times, your depression is the thing that you rely upon to help you through it. It's weird to think about the thing that has a hold of you is the very thing that can help you break free.

I think that there is some truth to this. I've had my bouts of depression. I think that at times, and very many different reasons, being depressed can act as comfort for you in a time of crisis. I think that most of the time, this is a dangerous thing. But in some cases, what I have found is that being alone can be a good thing for your soul.

Whether it's listening to sad music or watching a sad movie, sometimes it is necessary to walk a desolate way through 'the winters' of our lives. I also understand that there is a difference between being sad and being depressed. I just feel that there are a lot of times when it's tough to tell them apart.

Now that Christmas is over and all of the presents are opened, it's freezing cold outside, and you've gained weight from eating all of the joy, have a little cry if you'd like. Or better yet, share your sorrow with a loved one and wallow in it together.

The following are songs to listen to when you're sad and want to stay there. Let's all have a good cry and wallow in each of our own self-pities. What color is yours? Mine's blue.

Ben Folds - Late

I heard someone mention this song when the Oilers lost game 7 in 2006. Never had there been a more accurate song reference for the Oilers of those days.

*I left Elliott Smith off of this list on purpose.

Bob Dylan - The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll

Poor Hattie Carroll was brutally murdered by a rich man. No justice, no compensation. Just Bobby singing this song for her.

Dan Mangan - Jeopardy

This Dan Mangan one is at the top of my list.

Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism

I used to listen to this song a lot. It's a nice song to walk around town to. The line 'I need you so much closer' was a lyric that my heart would sing out to everyone I missed back in Canada.

Faunts - It Hurts me all the time

Guggenheim Grotto - Port Marnock Beach Boy Blue

Nick Drake - Way to Blue

I saw a documentary about Nick Drake and how he died. It was pretty sad. The film was beautiful, but the story was sad.

Ryan Adams - I taught myself how to grow

Samamidon - Saro

Samamidon - Tribulation

Samamidon has some nice little songs. Simple guitar and a sweet, crumpled voice.

Sufjan Stevens - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

Sun Kil Moon - Ocean Breathes Salty

Modest Mouse plays this song so well that you can't even tell that the lyrics are so very sad. Sun Kil Moon reminds us all that they really are.

Tom Waits - Time

Tori Amos - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Uncle Tupelo - Black Eye

Weezer - The World has turned and left me here.

The Who - Behind Blue Eyes

This song goes along with the movie Donnie Darko.

Wilco - At least that's what you said

This could be my favorite song. It mixes up my feelings. This video rules all videos and is working on expanding it's reign into other spheres of influence.


Sometimes the worst thing a person can do for you is try to make you feel better. I've heard that it's good to just sit with someone, or to listen to things that they might have to say. There's a lot to be said to a beating heart when another one enters the room. Another thing that people might like you to do is to play some sad music for them. It's a good way to say, "I know" without saying it.

And finally.................

Fear not!... I will follow this up with songs to listen to when you've been sad for long enough and need to snap out of it. I mean, gosh, it's Boxing Day!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Time is Here

Happiness and cheer.

Here in China, they celebrate Christmas by getting ready for Chinese New Year. A few places sell crappy Christmas decorations, but along with the Christmas stuff they get a jump on the Chinese holidays by selling all kinds of red things to tape and strap to your doors, walls, and cars.

Outside the ground is brown. And, I am pretty sure that Santa's not going to make it past Chinese border security this evening. Around town, there is very little evidence that Christmas is upon us.

Even though there is no snow, it's nice to not be overrun with commercialism; at least not the 'Christmas' kind. After 4 or 5 of these, I'm actually having a good time spending Christmas in China with a small group of friends. We eat and drink and laugh and it's all just a great time.

Blessed Christmas to all of you! I pray that all of you have loved ones to eat, drink, and laugh with as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Health Check in China Pt.9

Yup, that's me up there on the gurney. 2 gun shots to the sternum. But you should see the other guy! I also have a belly button.

Actually, that's me getting a quick ECG scan at the health check office here in Xining. It's probably the 8th or 9th health check I've had in this city. It continues to be one of the weirdest things about living here in China.

Before getting started, we need to go to the cashier to pay for the tests. The total price per person is 227 yuan, or about 37 Canadian dollars.

The whole process flows pretty smoothly. If it's not busy, you can be in and out within an hour. The first place they take you is to get your blood drawn. Instead of a private room, it is a room where anyone can gather and wait to get their blood drawn. They all stand around the table with their sleeves pulled up past their elbows and they watch your hairy Canadian arm get jabbed at by a poor health worker who probably stands there drawing blood nonstop for 3 or 4 hours before her lunch break.

I hate getting my blood drawn, so this is always the worst part for me. I am glad to get it out of the way at the beginning. I am also careful to make sure that the poor overworked lady, with a dozen people by the table distracting her, doesn't make a mistake and stick me with a dirty needle. That would be a tough way to go.

After this, a quick chest X-ray. Not too bad. Then we move upstairs to measure blood pressure. You stick your arm (the one with the blood still drying) into the automatic machine and let it do it's thing. Height, weight, no big deal. Other people were there getting ultrasounds and lung capacity tests, but for us we just had to move on to the ECG before leaving.

I'm not really sure what an ECG is, but the test for it sure is weird. Basically, the health worker rubs iodine on your extremities and just below your nipples. Then, she puts a bunch of suction cups on your body. They quickly unstick because of my chest hair so, for an awkward moment, the worker must hold them on my chest with her hands. Anytime a stranger is holding suction cups on your iodine lubed nipples, you know that it's going to be a little awkward.

After that, we head down to the office with the forms and we can pick up the results the next day.

It's one of those experiences here that I actually look forward to with fondness. With so many little, annoying culture things to deal with every single day, for some reason, the health check is still very funny to me. Just as funny as this random poster of 'American Beauty' they have hanging on the wall. She has a belly button, too!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oldish Married Couple

Today marks 10 years since the first day that I was married to the lovely 18 year old Barbara Mae Gitzel.

It's pretty funny to think that we got married so early on in life. I guess it's true that it could have been a disaster, just like a lot of other marriages that start out so young in life. In my mind, the way things have gone, it could not have worked out better.

I am very thankful that we celebrate 10 years this year and not, lets say, 4 or 5 years. Something happened 11 years ago when I met Barbara. We had a lot of time to spend together that summer; learning about each other and trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives. The more we learned about each other, the more we realized that it would be a pretty good idea to figure it all out together.

Out of our 15 months of dating, 9 were spent apart. It was a weird thing to do. We wrote letters to each other and mailed videos to each other documenting our lives apart; the sorrow of distance and all of the drama of a couple of kids in love. We'd used phone cards to talk to each other, often 4 timezones apart. In the dark, cold lonely Montreal nights I would talk to Barbara on the phone. The sound of the birds and sunshine in the background would bleed through the phone from Honolulu. I could actually hear the sunshine. It was like Barbara was calling from Heaven.

We grew close during that time. We wrote our feelings down and we talked about them as well. It's hard to make-out over the phone, so we were left with simple conversation.

Then, when we finally got back together and Ron gave me the thumbs up, I proposed and we were married 4 months later. It takes a lot of trust to give away your 18 year old daughter to a 20 year old guy. I am very thankful for that trust and that it grew into a wonderful relationship that I now share with Barbara's family. I could not have asked for my in-laws to be kinder and more loving than they are to us.

We've been to a lot of places together and we've been in China for a long time now. All the while still uncertain about those dreams and plans we had originally agreed to figure out together.

We've got 2 kids. We took our time. All of the planning and deciding of our boy Miles seemed to be a carefully thought out process. It seemed to be the smart way to do things, to plan ahead. Well, Jonas was an accident. We were not planning to have another one. A happy accident, indeed! I only have the one instance as an example, but I would say that I could not imagine a situation where I would not be ecstatic about having a "surprise" baby. After Jonas I realized that all of the planning ahead and carefully thought out ideas didn't really matter. Kids are truly a gift that cannot be measured, no matter where or how or why they show up.

It's been a fun decade. We survived listening to ska and punk music. We evolved through all of the weird fashions and phases of youth. Now we are both quickly settling into the idea of being in our 30's. I know that I would not have been to the places I've been and I would not have known all of the beautiful people that I know if it wasn't for joining my life together with hers.

And now, here we are, seemingly on the brink of something that might fit into the plans that we dreamed of in 2000. I am sure that no matter what happens here in China and no matter what sort of security and certainties we arrive at in the future, we will always have mystery and wonder to walk through together. I am very thankful that Barbara understands me and knows me. In life, you don't get a lot of opportunities for people to know you, I mean really know you. I am thankful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lame NBA and mamed NHL

Well, it finally happened. The NBA is back for another boring, yet thankfully shortened season.

This month is a special month in the Association where players from all over the league complain about their current situation and demand to be traded. Any sort of allegiance that remains for any of the players in this league gets wiped out faster than Doc can say "Great Scott!".

A couple examples...

All around nice guy Chancey Billups was released by the Knicks last week. Upon his release he stated a warning that any team that picks him up off of waivers will have to deal with a hold out and a lot of complaining. He said that he was sick of being the nice guy and that he wanted to have a say in where he was going to play. A day later, he was picked up by the Clippers. He is expected to report to practice on Monday. I guess he was just blowing smoke.

Then you have Chris Paul. To no fault of his own he gets traded to the Lakers. Then, the league says that the deal is not good enough, so they veto the trade. Then, a week later, he gets traded to the Clippers. It's weird stuff having the commissioner of the league say what a fair trade should look like. Apparently, the league owns Paul's former tea...



I will say that a lot of players say that they feel "disrespected" by teams that either trade or release them. These players include Billups and former Laker Lamar Odom. The thing to remember when whiny millionaires complain about being disrespected is that, just maybe, the fans that pay to watch the games might feel a little disrespected by not being able to watch the games because of the rich players and rich owners arguing about who is being disrespected.

Because of the now present risk of sounding like I care about all of this, I will now stop talking about it.

On to a sport I care about. The NHL is a mess, but for completely different reasons. Their leading scorer is out with a concussion. Their best player is out (again) with a concussion. Every other night someone is getting concussed. This is a mess. Are there more concussions happening now or do there just seem to be more because we are looking out for them now?

I'm glad that they are taking this seriously, after such a horrible off season of players dying of a lot of crazy reasons, one of which is related to concussions. It also seems that there are still a lot of players that don't care at all about other players well being. There are a lot of dirty hits still happening in the league, even though the league is suspending the culprits left, right and center.

At the same time, there are still a bunch of loser hockey players playing the game as if it were a soccer match. Flopping, diving, whining, and biting should not be apart of the game. I dream of a day when players respect the game and their fellow players by playing the game hard, tough and clean.

If the illegalities keep going down this road, I think that we really need to be worried that someone is going to die out on the ice. I am serious about that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Country Drive on Film: the way that we bonded, the way we became friends.

The cold, Canadian winter settles into existence. But fear not!... I have...

Maxima; the ginger ale of the Nissan family.

I hop in and melt the leather seat. It only takes a few moments for me to gain the feeling back in my jeans.

The grid of the country, like tiles on a cold kitchen floor, carries me back towards the city.

The white banks of snow keep the road clear, but for the swirling that rolls in through mailbox stands. The tires crunch and we both laugh as we roll over top of the pathetic drifts.

The windshield is smudged, but the fluid is still warming in it's little tub next to the engine. I wait and drive slower than I'd like. There is tension between us. Like a confused camera, I have trouble focusing. I adjust as my vision bleeds through to the road. The cold air from the heater continues to stream through to my hands. The tension builds.

In the West, the sun is curled up like a cat. The warmth soothes the side of my face. I turn a little for it to touch both cheeks and my red little nose. My pink, raw hands held up to it like a campfire.

As a row of trees interrupts the warmth, the sun flickers through like an old film. The smudges persist and at the end of the previews I switch on a swipe of the wipers. The blue juice squeaks on the lens and we're in focus now for the feature. I smile, look down, and pat the wheel like a puppy. The heater changes it's tune, warming my achy bones.

As the sun flickers on, I look to the East and watch as the shadows traipse on the snowy screen. The cattle and horses of the fields do their part as the extras, though every character is just as important as the next. They all play a part in telling the story.

The Nissan. The Beast. The hero, roaring through battle. It's shadow dark and mysterious, but on my side. You see, It is I at the controls! The Beast does my bidding. Busting through the animals and trees, the shadow makes it's escape towards the city.

We turn East and the scene shifts. The curled up cat is now at our back. The Nissan crawls further into danger. Far worse than the animals and trees of the previous act, our nemesis is now the long road stretching on and on.

Unlike before, this battle is in the mind. The shadow of our hero races forth, seemingly without resistance. Ah, but you see, it is a trap! The shadow is unaware that I, the puppet behind the curtain, am bored to death of this stretch of road and prone to falling asleep.

Slowly, the drug sets in and we downfall towards the drifts. We drift towards our downfall. In a last ditch effort, the Nissan breaks the heater. The noise blasts through, into the belly of The Beast. I come to, gripping the wheel for my life. Sliding back onto the road, we survive.

Stunned and shaken, with a sexy scar on my cheek and my wardrobe tousled like Keanu's, I pull over at the first possible chance. In a move of humble appreciation, I pop the hood and toss handfuls of snow on the engine. It sizzles like Burger King.

I slip back inside and The Beast kicks the heater back on. The engine humming like an old man, I know we are on the same page now. I click the clicker, The Beast rolls out, and together we march on into the sunset, so to speak.

Friday, December 9, 2011

There and back again

Here is a run down of our trip from Edmonton to Xining.

It all started on Tuesday morning. It was 530am in Edmonton, on December 6th no less, yet it smelled melty outside. I was sure that it was going to be a nice day in Edmonton but we weren't going to be there for it.

We checked in at 630. I've tried checking in with the "self check-in" machine about 76 times now and it's worked once. I remember that day. On this day, it did not work. As I usually do, I worried that our bags would be overweight and we'd have to pay. Well, for some blessed reason the lady did not weigh our bags. She just told me to toss them on the belt.

7am now and plenty of time for some breakfast at Harvey's. I didn't want to challenge my stomach to that kind of thing this early in the trip so I just shared Miles' peanut butter sandwich. Soon after, we hugged the grandpa and grandma McClelland and headed for security. I reminded Barbara to take the toothpaste out of her bag because it is illegal to carry toothpaste on the flight. As the sign says, " Some things just aren't meant to fly."

Around 8ish we hang out at the gate. A lady recognizes Miles' Nakamun shirt and we find out that her daughter worked there in the Summer.

We fly to Vancouver. Flying to Vancouver is super easy. It's actually easier to fly to Vancouver than it is to drive out to Camp or Stony Plain with the kids. The in-flight TVs keep Miles and Jonas' attention the whole time. We even get ginger ale and pretzels.

In Vancouver, we meet up with Bryce and Krista and the kids for some Timbits. The girls chat while Bryce and I watch the boys. Miles and Jonas found there way into climbing in between two rows of carts. Jonas cries. I pace over and try to pull him out. I notice a couple of airport workers sympathetically laughing in our direction. I discover that Jonas' pants got caught on the cart and exposed his blue and green underwear. He cried more. I apologized.

At 1155am we get on the plane to Shang Hai. Once again, it was a pretty smooth trip. Miles watched way too much TV, but I allow it on airplanes so that I don't lose my sanity. I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles and I also watch Horrible Bosses. The former is a classic that I always enjoy. I love John Candy. The latter was funny, but way too crude for even a laid back guy such as me.

Our flight attendant friend was on board for the flight. She took good care of us. We got 4 blankets, 2 helicopter toys, 2 coloring books, 6 full cans of ginger ale and a cheese plate from first class. Thanks, Grace!

We arrive in Shang Hai around 6pm on Wednesday night. So, we skipped a day in there. I try not to think about it too much; makes the jet lag more tolerable. We arrive at the hostel that we stayed at when we left China 2 months earlier. They are glad to see us. I go out to buy food for the train ride and come back and we all sleep.

7am on Thursday. We lug our luggage outside and wait for a taxi. After 20 minutes, I worry. Finally, a guy pulls up and we make it to the train station at about the right time. We get on the train at 846am and then the real trip begins.

Around 9am the boys get bored. They run around the car. Barbara and I are sick from breathing in the airplane air for 12 hours and we spend most of the time fighting off head colds and telling the boys to be quiet.

Eat some instant noodles. I realize that I did not buy enough food. We starve for most of the trip. You can only eat so many packs of instant noodles.

The boys make friends with a lady who lets them play Angry Birds on her iPad.


More noodles.

I am making my way through Deathly Hallows. It is so good that I want to pace myself.

We sleep pretty well in the night.

We eat noodles for breakfast.

I decide to tell the boys some stories. "There once was 2 little muggle boys named Miles and Jonas... They were walking in the snow when they heard their favorite Christmas song Jingle Bell Rock coming from a store... They went in and saw a giant Santa made out of chocolate..."

Later, Miles had his own story that started out like this, "There once were 2 muggles named Miles and Dad. Dad's real name was Brett..." It was a good story.

Finally, we spot someone selling fruit at a stop. I buy oranges and we eat. The first fruit or vegetable any of us had since the flight some 45 hours earlier.

At 5pm on Friday, 32 hours since we got on the train, we arrive in beautiful Xining. Our gorgeous friend Dustin is there to pick us up. After driving for 10 minutes we realize that the back hatch of the jeep is wide open. Thankfully, everything was still inside.

We get home around 6 and I go out to buy a ton of Chinese food for us to eat. Only here in China, it's just called food. The restaurant has one of those tall heaters that are so popular these days. It had an English label on it that said "for outdoor use only".

We eat, and eat some more. The boys run around the apartment. They get tired. They go to bed by 8. We are all asleep by 930.

Right now, it is 630am on Saturday. I got up a couple of hours ago but the boys are still asleep. Barbara is quietly organizing stuff in the bedroom. I love my family. I don't really like traveling that much. I love my family.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hugo: I am more than an automaton

Well, we fell for it. All of the talk about the film Hugo got to us and we had to go check it out for ourselves.

James Cameron saw it and said it was the best 3D movie to date, including Avatar. IMDB has it at 8.7/10 stars. Martin Scorcese directed it, so that's a plus. Barbara has a crush on Jude Law, so I didn't have to ask her twice. Reviews and critics hailing it as "Outstanding" and "An instant Classic" were expected. Someone called it the "Filmmaking Achievement of the year" and "The clear front runner for Best Picture". All of this from a PG rated 3D movie? I had to check it out. So, on Wednesday night at 1010pm Barbara, myself, and 4 other people in the theatre took in Hugo.

As is usually the case, when something is hyped that much it more than likely turns into a giant let down. The 3D was cool in some situations, like the opening scene at the train station, and it was annoying in other situations, like when the characters are standing around talking to each other, which happens a lot.

I've seen some real crap 3D. The Last Airbender was crap, post-production-added 3D. Literally, the most frustrating and annoying thing I've ever seen on a screen. It gave me a headache and the only relief I had was when I fell asleep in the middle of it.

Then, on Wednesday, we had all of the previews to watch in 3D. Of course, the preview were pretty cool to see, except for the post added stuff, like the new 3D version of Star Wars: Episode 1. The 3D added to that movie looks like crap. Will it make a billion dollars? You bet, but just when you think that they couldn't ruin Star Wars any further, they go out and find a way! It's really rather impressive, but also sad.

Side note. Someone said it best when they compared George Lucas' obsession over Star Wars to a sandwich he might have eaten back in the day. Here is the quote.

Anyways, the 3D in Hugo was pretty impressive, but I will say it again: watching a 2 hour movie in 3D, while wearing those glasses, is very distracting. Aside from the opening sequence I would have liked to watch Hugo without the 3D.

Driving home, Barbara and I discussed the film. The story was cool. The visuals were amazing. Sacha Baron Cohen was funny, but not too funny, which was perfect.

The problem was that the character's weren't developed enough. The movie seemed to flip flop back and forth between focusing on Hugo and Georges Melies. That was fine, until the end when it all ended up being about Georges Melies. I wasn't satisfied with how they ended it with Hugo. And, as it turned out, I didn't really care about him or George or anyone else for that matter. Well, I cared about George because they focused on him in the end. The problem was that there was too much going on for them to go deep in any area. This problem usually stems from the difficulty of turning a book into a movie. That is the case here.

I'm not talking about the whole "the book was better than the movie" argument. I've never read the book in this case, but I could tell that it was a book. All of the character development and detail of the book is squeezed out onto the screen in 2 hours. In order to have the movie make any sense they must follow the story. Working that way, the story is heavily leaned upon and the other areas of storytelling, character and theme, are to a certain extent ignored.

As far as Hugo goes, the theme was there but character development was ignored. The story was there but the emotions seemed hurried.

It almost makes me want to avoid film adaptations from books altogether.

Everybody!: "It almost makes me want to avoid film adaptations from books."

In the end, I will say that I am probably being too hard on little Hugo. It was an entertaining movie. I liked that about it. I liked the 3D in it better than Avatar even though Avatar had more movement and action in it. It was nice to see good 3D go along with a good story.

However, I am a human being and humans are emotional. I wanted to care about all of the characters in the end, not just Ben Kingsley. Because of the lack of character development, I went home unfulfilled. All of the glamour of 3D and all I wanted was a little bit of a connection.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Music 2: a reminder of the beginning of new

It is almost December 1st. It's officially okay to listen to Christmas music, though I have been listening to it constantly for over 3 weeks now.

A friend reminded me this week of a great collection of Christmas songs. In fact, I would say that they are the standard and the foundation for my Christmas music collection.

When the songs first came out they were free for the taking. Now, you can go to the link and buy all 42 songs for 12 bucks. That's a great deal! Almost as cheap as stealing them, but with less guilt and more yuletide.

Anyways, of all of the songs included, my favorite is Sufjan's version of "Holy, holy, holy". The fact is that most people would not consider it to be a Christmas song at all. My response to this is that any song can be a Christmas song if it's got the kind of falalalala that comes with Christmas songs.

I am a big fan of The Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit in one. Most Christmas songs focus on the Jesus part of the trinity, but what is so beautiful about Christmas is that it came about in cooperative fashion.

3 in 1 usually leads to people talking about the components of an egg or the different states that water can form. These are curious metaphors and, to me, are cute at best. At their worst, they attempt to label and leash the mysterious like a puppy.

I prefer to ignore these explanations and simply try to sit in the wonder and beauty of it. It's comforting to know that even though I am small, there is something much bigger out there and, in fact, that big, mysterious thing out there that I can wonder at loves me.

Jesus is the one that we can get a glimpse of this love. I am guessing that this is why we sing all of the songs about him at Christmas. It's really great to look at his birth as the beginning of something. It's the beginning of the new creation. The beginning of the new way of living. To steal another quote:

"In Jesus, the gospel tells us, a fundamental break has been made in the human situation, in view of which scepticism, vacillation, indifference, uncertainty, fear, hopelessness and joylessness have all been taken care of, set aside as things which do not match up to the new situation in which the whole creation has been placed." - John Webster

It was a new day. It became a new age. The age of trading sorrows. Hope came to us, and people didn't even know it, many still do not know it. The secret is still very hush, hush even after all of these years; the situation that we all find ourselves in has been shifted to a hopeful one.

"There is a sign at the sight of thee; merciful and mighty."

It is through the Christmas revelation that we have a faint idea of what this lyric means. Merciful and mighty aren't typically traits that go together. It's like that verse about the lion and the lamb hanging out by the river together; it's beautiful but how does it work?

"Though the eye of sinful man, thy glory may not see."

I'm reminded of that scene in "Field of Dreams" where the sceptical fellow looks up at the seemingly empty baseball diamond and says, "When did all of these ball players get here?" The new situation we are in is something that is not thrust upon us. We are allowed to ignore it and wallow in the old ways; the fear, the loneliness, the hopelessness. Even though I believe in the new creation I still find myself stuck in that fearful state a lot of the time. Or I forget about the Trinity and fill up my life with emptiness. I am thankful that Christmas is a constant reminder that there is good and it is really, very, honestly good like we hope it would be.

Christmas is a time to be together with loved ones and to forgive old debts and to celebrate jubilee. At least, that's the way I see it. I am thankful for the Blessed Trinity and it's desire to share the joy of their communion with us. I am thankful for the reminder of Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kind Sounds: an evening of good music

The thing that sucks about society is that it tells us to accept empty, hollow entertainment as something that will sustain and satisfy the things that call out from deep inside of us. Society taps it's foot and the beat is steady, echoing from the inside of the dance clubs. After a few hours of mindless trancing, Society spits us out onto the sidewalk. Later on, we get our friend to pull over his car so that we/society can puke out all of the alcohol and trashy music that we force fed ourselves all night.

To combat this evil, it was with agreeable consideration that we decided to go out and watch a few acquaintances perform their latest songs this past evening.

We may have won the battle but the war goes on.

The evening was made possible because a couple of dudes opened up their business's office so that their friends could play music for more friends that wanted to listen to it. It was a beautiful thing. There was a spirit of community and friendliness flowing the whole night. Hotdogs were on sale the whole night and the good people at the refreshment table were very kind to make sure we were always aware of it. They also had wine, beer, and scotch available for 2$. The drinks came in plastic glasses, which was nice because it meant that no one needed to stay too late to do dishes.

Baby Driver opened up with some nice tunes. The band played a nice, tight set and the main man of the group was charming and inviting to the 100 or so people that had gathered at a safe distance in front of him. It is kind of awkward to watch a show standing on the same eye level as the singer and only a few feet from him, but everyone did well in this make shift situation.

Paul Fuellbrandt was nice to listen to. From the last time I had seen him perform, at the old High Level Diner, I remember his strong voice and splashy piano keys. It turns out that my memory was spot on. It was a great set.

After Paul, some of the crowd seemed to disappear. It was about 11pm at the time and people have kids and dogs to attend to, so it is kind of understandable. At the same time, those sorry sacks of souls missed out on Brock Tyler and his band. It was fine too, I mean, we were all pretty tired but Brock let us all sit down on the floor to rest our legs. I discovered that the blood must have settled in my legs during the long night of standing. When I finally sat down I realized that I was going to have a hard time crossing my legs because of the snugness of my pants caused by the collection of blood and the fact that I have gained some weight in Canada leading from the fact that my "tight fit" jeans have a hard enough time dealing with me in the first place.

But other than that, everything was nice. The band played some songs off of Brock's new EP titled You Can't Keep the Sun Down. I've tried, and it's true.

However, there were other songs as well. About 4 or 5 beautiful little songs that were nice to listen to late at night. I look forward to hearing those songs again sometime soon.

All that to say, go to Brock's website and buy the EP for 4 dollars. There is also a new single on there that can be downloaded for free. Go there. Go now. Go often. Tell your friends and your dog's friend's cousin.

If you are new to his music, then also pick up his first record, Unclosing, for 12 bucks. It is good to listen to. I've listened to it in many different situations for many different reasons and, in the end, they all were justified.

So, a great night it was. Do yourself and the artists a favor and support them. They get a few dollars and you get some nice music for your collection or library or whatever you'd like to call it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dashing through the Snow

Some things I've noticed in and around:

Businesses are marketing things now that are complete lies. I understand that they've always been lying about things, but it used to be creative. Now they just seem to think that the lying is good enough. Some examples:

McDonald's McCafe. The commercials invite you into some sort of 'dream of escape'. The beans being crushed, the milk being stirred. Go to McDonald's and they'll serve you a cup o' trash latte or the fudge sundae's equivalent of a mocha. It's trash; they know it and you know it, I know it. Yet, they keep telling us it isn't so we all just agree and buy it once in a while anyway. I mean, hey, when Starbucks gets a children's play place then we can finally commit to abstaining from silly McD drinks.

That being said, the regular coffee at McDonald's is not bad, and pretty good when you get to play the monopoly game with it.

I was watching the hockey game the other night and the commercial was for Boston Pizza. It said something like, "There is nothing quite like bringing together that timeless combo of hockey and pasta." Since when was that a timeless combo?! I, for one, have never purposely eaten pasta while watching hockey.


Anyway, I seem to whine and complain a little too much these days. Let's move on.

Barbara, the boys and I have been listening to Christmas music pretty much nonstop for the last week or so. She pointed out that it's still a month until Christmas, and I pointed out that that is awesome. I love Christmas music! Sometimes I think that I'd like to listen to it all year long, though I doubt I'd ever want to try.

To me, listening to Christmas music is like eating food during the holidays; you indulge a little too much, but by the next day you're ready for the next round. I get sick of the songs, but when I wake up I'm ready for more Rudolph.

My favorite Christmas songs at the moment are:

1. Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney
The synth in this one rules!

2. White Christmas by Bing Crosby
I'm already dreamin'! Though Xining will not be white this Christmas.

3. Jingle Bell Rock by some lady

The boys like this one and argue about it's title. Miles calls it by it's true name while Jonas screams that it is in fact just called Jingle Bells. Another week or so will set him straight.

"No! It's Jingle Bells!"

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unused used car lots.

These are in no way original thoughts. Basically, I just wanted to get this down so that I can look at it if I ever think of buying a new car. I can pull up this blog entry, hold the computer up to my head, and punch myself in the face with it over and over again.

Being in Canada for a few weeks, I've had the pleasure of being able to watch a lot of sports on TV. During that time I have seen that there are a lot of car commercials. The main message for the viewer seems to be that things are getting cleaner on the streets.

There is one commercial in particular that I found interesting, yet misleading. You can watch it by clicking in this area.

I'm not a genius at all. Nobody pays me to think. There is no "I" in "team. But from what I can gather, most of the things in this commercial are made out of plastic and it takes oil to make plastic. Hence, everything in that commercial really is "running on gas" if you want to get technical.

So, if we really want to stop using oil and gas, I guess we can just stop making things altogether.

"Stop making things."

That is silly talk. We need things. I love things! I use things all the time, you say. Well, yeah, that's pretty straight forward. But back to the car...

The other day we were on our way to the football game when I realized that there are 50 billion used car lots between Londonderry and Commonwealth Stadium. There are a lot of used cars in this city that are not being used.

I also heard that at some car lots, they will not accept cars that are older than 10 years, no matter what condition they are in. I am told that cars such as the one I am driving at the moment, a mid-ninety's Nissan Maxima, are sent straight to the scrap yard when they are traded in. Yup, sent to the scrap yard to be turned into scrap. The machines that do this dirty work are actual things. These things contain plastic and run on oil and gas in some cases.

I also hear that people are really into leasing cars, rather than buying them. Then, in a few years, they upgrade. Some folks are getting new cars every few years or so. But don't worry, they say, they only lease hybrids. Well, now you have the Leaf and all of the other low-emission/electric cars are being manufactured by the thousands so that people can lease them to save the environment.

I wonder how much good they are doing, building all of these new factories to build all of these new cars. Probably not a whole lot of good, I think. Meanwhile, the used car lots fill up with "old" cars that no one wants to drive anymore because they are bad for the environment.

Well, I think that the whole picture needs to be looked upon at a little further distance. Someone in this whole scheme is trying to trick us all into thinking that making use and taking care of the cars that we have now is a wasteful and dirty idea. The truth seems to be that they just want you to buy a new car now, and not only that, but to get a new one again in a few years. Sneaky little fellows, aren't they?

So, future Brett, please remember that there are a lot of cars, enough cars for everyone, already in existence. Please, please buy one of these cars. There are enough to go around.

Monday, November 14, 2011

More SN thoughts

Challenged by the book Flickering Pixels, I wrote here about some of the problems with Facebook. After being continually bombarded with confusing status updates, I think that there is even more there than I had initially thought.

Everyone knows that, to some extent, things are getting worse on Facebook. The way they "upgrade" the site could have something to do with it as it seems like Facebook has it's very own Facebook it the top right corner of the page. This is only skimming the surface of the problem. Every time I sign on to my page, which for everyone now is an everyday addiction, I cannot seem to find too many things that make any sense to me.

A big problem since the beginning is this. Everyone has problems, personal problems, and a ineffective way of dealing with those problems is to post them in a non-specific and vague way on their Facebook status. This brings momentarily but ultimately empty feelings of being loved and needed when a few friends ask for more specifics. Their questions are never answered, at least not publicly, leaving everyone else to imagine the worst possible scenario, making the situation, for the initial poster, that much more confused sympathy. And, most of the time, it is left at that.

"What am I going to do?"

"Why did this have to happen?"

"Really, God?! I cannot believe this!"

The roots of these problems range from being diagnosed with a disease to a barista getting your drink order wrong. The real problem is that no one ever knows what the problem is. Even when people ask for elaboration, they are usually left with their inquiries unanswered. Sure, maybe the victim sent private messages to a few close people, but the other 400 people are left to wonder as to what's really going on. Speculation fills the air and that leads to all kinds of unhealthy things.

I think that the problem here is that we shouldn't be telling people our deep, dark issues or concerns unless we lay it out clearly. Some people want people to pray for them, so in that way it is a good idea to clearly communicate the issue. Yet, others obviously don't want everyone to know the issue, they just want sympathy for the speculated circumstance.

"Oh, that's too bad that they got your order wrong. That happened to me last week."

"Sorry to hear that. We are praying for you."

Who knows what people are really thinking? This system that allows us to teeter on the brink of spilling all of our hurts and needs to everyone is a system that confuses us and brings about even deeper feelings of loneliness and isolation.

It's a situation of constantly 'beating around the bush'. Without any clear, direct communication, the whole situation gets frustrating and ultimately annoying. At least this is the way I see it.

I would hope that people would take advantage of this great way to communicate; use the Facebook addictions to your advantage. Personal messages can be sent to a group of people, just like how email used to work in the old days. Actually, you can even send email to someone's inbox on Facebook. Apparently, my Facebook email address is gitzel@facebook.com.

I diverge and digress. The point is that I would hope that people would still have the desire to actually connect with their friends. I know that people are hurting and I know that people are angry that McDonalds has run out of chicken nuggets, I just can't tell the difference.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Must Mention Dan Mangan

Before it gets too yesterday's news I must mention this fellow. Last Thursday, we caught his show at McDougal United Church here in Edmonton.

I had heard a few of his songs before, even covering one at Open Mic in Xining. But in general, I was not very familiar with his music, so my expectations weren't that high.

I must say that he killed it. His band played the seemingly slow album on stage like it was on fire. I made up a term in saying that they "Wilcoed" every song that night. They built up the pace and then they tore it down. It was beautiful.

A few days before the show I purchased his new album, Oh Fourtune. The first song caught me off guard after one listen; these were some of the best lyrics I'd have heard in a long time. It emotionalized me, after just one listen... on my iTouch... without the headphones... just that crappy little speaker.

Here is the song:


Here are the lyrics:

Both feet together, slowly progressing

Always in time, don't count the feathers, just count the wings
Everyday counting, everything's changing
I almost forgot it, but then I remembered.

I was thrown in the boat
Cast out to sea friendly with waves, there were sharks below
Hungry for me
So I dangled my legs
And I lit up like a match, coz I bled gasoline
Made a torch of myself, to the moon was mine
Stars made of me, oh I lit up that sky

Both feet together, slowly progressing
Always in time, don't count the feathers, just count the wings
Everyday counting, everything's changing
I almost forgot it, but then I remembered.

I'm not sure what it is about those lyrics. There is a challenge there somewhere. I feel that at times it seems like I'm learning to walk again. There is a helplessness in almost forgetting and an unstoppable force in suddenly remembering.

The sea is angry, but the waves are friendly. The images I see when I think of the stars being me. Everything changing for a melancholy chap such as I, it's hard to look forward when so many things behind me are stuck in my mind.

For me I think of my life and the confusion that bottles it every day. The frustrations mount up and I wonder what I'm doing it all for... but then I remember.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Something isn't right here

The news is multifaceted. If it wasn't then we could probably label it as just plain old head scratching and "what are the odds" jargon. But the facts are facts and we're wondering who made up these crazy rules in the first place.

So, I could come at this from 3 different angles. Since I am Canadian and just came back from a CFL game last night I will attack it from the one I am sitting in. If you are an NFL fan and you enjoy Thanksgiving football then you have your own angle. If you are a Winnipeg Jets fan then you're on board as well. Here is the the question of the hour...

Why the &#@% is Nickelback being hired to play at all of these sporting events?!

The other obvious question that goes along with this one is...

Who the blank likes listening to Nickelback anyway?!

And finally...

What in Sam Hill's name is going on here, dag nabbit?!

I understand that a mass of misguided fools liked listening to a couple of their early hits about 10 years ago, but what the crap are we doing getting them to play at the Grey Cup now?!

The truth is that they apparently opened at the Winnipeg Jets first first game in 15 years. And just when you think that that was weird and somewhat disgusting we all find out that they are playing the halftime show at the Lions-Packers game on Thanksgiving Thursday. To top it off? Well heck, they've decided that we'd all love to seem them on TV one more time a week later at the 99th Grey Cup in Vancouver.

Yes, organizers, please fill up the sporting world's schedule with this bag of expired excrement. Please let Chad and the boys "Cowboy Up" onto every stage so that they can "git 'er done" for us all with their droopy, lopsided post grunge diseased mess of a performance. And why stop there, I am sure that we can get them to play the Christmas special as well.

The fact that every one of these proposed events has been met with an online petition to stop them is a good testimony of the fact that this crap from Alberta needs to be shovelled out with yesterday's trash.

Is there one soul, one football or hockey loving soul over, let's say, the age of 13 or over that actually likes this band?

It angers me. It saddens me. It nauseates me. And if I had more time I'd tell you how I really feel about this. In a word, abused.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Banff: the land of moose, deer, beavers and... wait for it... Australians!

Dear Barbara with deer

Barbara and I just came back from a lovely time in Banff, Alberta. Banff lies about an hour west of Calgary in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We were blessed with some $ to spend to celebrate our 10th Anniversary and Banff was how we decided to spend it. We made a great choice.

And besides the romance, the roaming around, the shop browsing, and the eating and drinking of delicious food and beverages, there was a lot more to Banff. I could talk about how we walked down Banff Ave. past Beaver Street to get to where we were going on Caribou Ave. I could also mention the serene sounds of nature, like the calling of a hawk that flew overhead while we were waiting to cross an intersection; nature meets urban in a glorious burst of Canadian stereotypicalism. I could almost hear the hawk call out my name, "Welcome, Brett! Welcome to Banff! Caw!" If you listen carefully you might be able to hear it too. Shhhh. Listen. Can you hear it?

But the weird thing about Banff is that there are a freaking lot of Australians. Don't label me a hater, I love Australians. At first I figured that there were just a lot of tourists from Down Under. But then when I was ordering my coffee from an Australian and shopping in stores filled with workers from Australia I started to think that it must be pretty easy for these blokes to get a work visa in Canada. Well, it turns out that it is even easier than we thought.

Barbara asked an Australian barista why there are so many of them living in Banff. The girl said that the skiing is better there and that it's easy to get a work visa. Once again, how easy?

"I applied for my work visa online and I got it within a week."

It must be a Commonwealth thing. At least 40% of the workers we encountered in Banff were Australian. There are swarms of them. I think it's pretty cool that they can come up here and work and ski. The question I have is where are all of the Canadian ski bums? I figured that there would be more home grown hosers and ladies that would want to work and ski in the National Park.

Then I wondered, does it work the other way? Can Canadians find work in Australia so easily? What about the other Commonwealth Nations? Can I get a job in Delhi? If I can keep a straight face am I allowed to work as a guard outside of Buckingham Palace? Could I, Brett Gitzel, drive William and Kate around like one of their own?

Australians in Banff. Online visa application. Tell all of your Pakistani friends that they can serve coffee in Banff and snowboard Norquay all winter.

I would compare the process of, as a Canadian, attaining a Chinese visa with an Australian stumbling over a Canadian one, but that would be a little silly and frustrating and heart breaking.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Hometown and the town where I live

I was born in Edmonton, where this photo was taken last week, but I grew up 15 minutes west of it in the 'I never use this word but I'll use it now' quaint town of Stony Plain. We spent the summers riding bikes and slurping slurpees. In the winter we would go play shiny hockey at Forest Green until it got dark at around 430pm. Even though the town has spread out a little and changed a lot it is still full of all of those memories.

Being back from China for a few weeks here I have had the chance to visit Stony a few times already. As I turned left at the McDonald's and past Safeway what do you think I would see? Well, of course, the first thing I see is a group of about 6 or 7 Chinese young people J-walking across the street towards the Petro-Canada. I laughed and looked back to tell Miles about it but he was fast asleep in the car seat. I can never get away from China, no matter how hard I try.

Being back has been nice. The air is crisp and fresh. Out at my parent's acreage the silence drifts in and out of the trees. Their dog barks at an animal in the forest. I look up to see that it's just the neighbours cattle nestling up on the other side of the fence. I can actually hear them chewing on their cud and kicking at the grass.

The city of Edmonton is what seems like a stark contrast to our city in China. The downtown dab of towers and skyscrapers are surrounded by countless houses, trees, grassy parks and the like. I cannot believe how much grass there is. You can sit on it and walk on it, and if your dog craps on it you need to pick it up.

Driving back and forth from my parents place to the city I have had a lot of time to think about what this trip home means to me. The truth is that I really needed a break from China. And despite the J-walkers it has been a nice break. I've been reminded of why I love Canada so much. I knew that I would feel this way and I look forward to someday making Canada our home again.

At the same time, I am a little surprised with how much I miss China. I didn't think that I would really miss it at all, besides the friends that we have there. But I think that this break from China has been great to help me hit some sort of refresh button and I think that I'll be able to go back there and be a better person because of it.

I'm not sure how much longer we'll be in China, and I'm not really sure what kinds of things we would get down to if we ever move back here. One thing I do know is that we have a lot of great things happening for us in China right now and we're determined to see them through.

Stony Plain is where I'm from, but I don't think that I'll ever live there again. If we ever came back I am sure that we would want to live in Edmonton. So, in a way, my Stony days are over, and have been for quite some time. I tend to get overly melancholy when I think of what I great childhood I've had. It's always good for me to challenge myself to move on in life; to not get stuck thinking about how good yesterday was compared to today. In reality, it's more than likely just my mind tricking me into thinking that the past was greater than it was and today is lamer than it actually is.

4 more weeks in Canada for the family and I. We'll enjoy it the best that we can, we'll say goodbye with some tears and the like, and we'll go back to China for a while. I'm pretty happy that I can say that, not only am I looking forward to the next month, but I'm also looking forward to what lies beyond that flight back over Siberia.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Update... for people who know nothing about anything about nothing.

The Hockey League, National Edition...

First off, click for a little something to whet the palate.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

The grass is brown. The dust storms are swirling trash and little bits of human manure from the nearby farmland. The leaves fall from the trees and the street sweeping ladies quickly swoop in and scoop them up before anyone can frolic. Yes, it's hockey season in the middle of China!

Nobody cares but me!

October is one of my favorite months. In fact, I love the smell of the death of nature. Or, I guess I should call it hibernation. The grass looks like it's dead, but really, it's just waiting until things warm up again.

The same could be said for Oiler fans. We've been waiting 5 long seasons. Waiting for things to get warmer. The team could barely be called a team for 2 or 3 years there. Then a strange thing happened. There was a strange noise. That noise was the sound of the bottom of the ocean. The very depths of terrible. This season, that strange noise returned, only this time we were all used to it and actually kind of happy about it. Kind of like when random firecrackers blast away the silence of a summer Saturday morning in Xining. If it's because of a wedding or someone just moving into the building, the firecrackers are a tradition, warding off the evil spirits of bad luck.

Speaking of bad luck, the Oiler's best defense man is still injured. His ankles can't seem to handle the weight of his awesomeness. Ryan Whitney will start the season on the sidelines.

Speaking of ankles, Sam Gagner's is sprained. He'll be out for a while. Word has it his foot speed is up this year. Hopefully he can recover from this little speed bump and come back strong within a few weeks.

The good news is that they have an 18 year old rookie to keep Sam's seat warm for him while he recovers. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be on the team come opening night. He's played really well in the preseason and, for me and Kevin Lowe, that's good enough to make this team.

If the Oilers were a nerd, and that nerd wore pants, you could hold him upside down and the lunch money that would fall out would be quite a balanced group of forwards. Ryan Smyth is back, so bring your tissue. Shaun Horcoff can play his natural role for the first time in 5 years. Ales Hemsky might be able to play a few games before his shoulder caves in on itself. And finally, Eric Belanger is the new good french guy who can replace the old sucky french guy known as J.F. Jacques. Yup, these guys just might be able to lasso a few more respectable performances this season.

The real excitement, thanks to this team being so horrible for so many years, are all of the talented young guys. Taylor Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi are all back for their second seasons. I noticed the other day that Taylor Hall's hair is longer this year, so that's a good thing. Paajarvi kind of reminds me of Evgeni Malkin, so we'll see where that goes. I like to set the expectations bar too high so that nobody can accidentally hit their head on it.

In goal, we have 67 year old Nik Khabibulin. Being in jail this summer aside, the man is old, so let's not expect anything too exciting this season. There should be a lot of rubber pucks bouncing over, around and through this man all season. The other guy, Devan Dubnyk, looks pretty good, so let's hope that they let him play once in a while. A hip tweak here and a pulled groin there and we should see Double D playing significant minutes come November.

The defense is horrible.

So there you have it; everything you need to know, wrapped up in a tight little package. Toss it on the ol' zamboni in your brain and when the puck drops next week, remember that the best time of your life is about to begin.

Everybody's really excited!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"And Sanchez takes the sn..."


"...eller inside the 20. 1st down Je..."


"Your video will continue in 15 seconds."

Insert annoying JLo Fiat commercial. JLo proceeds to drive around in a Fiat while singing her new single, Papi. Meanwhile, men from all walks of life hurry and push their way past each other to be able to catch a glimpse of the aging has-been star. Brief cases fly in the air, the papers falling out and dancing in the wind. For some reason, there are men on skateboards doing kick flips off of the stairs to try to catch up to JLo in her affordable ride.

Now I don't claim to be a Spanish linguist so I could be wrong but, is it a little strange that she is singing this song about her Papi? Isn't that her father? Is she calling him 'baby' in this song?

Back to the NFL.

This is how it's been for quite some time here in Xining. In fact, I am sure that the world is full of thousands of men, and perhaps women, who stream NFL games in the middle of the night. The stream is usually pretty choppy and there are a lot of pop-ups and commercials that you have to look around, but it's all we have.

The good thing about watching football at 1am is that it is a quiet time of day on the Internet, meaning the connection is usually a little faster than usual and the stream is not as choppy as, say, when you want to watch Monday Night Football on a Tuesday morning.

The bad thing is that you are actually up all night watching football, which, depending how you look at it, might not be the best way to start the week.

This past weekend I bought a special imported beer to watch the Jets' game with. At around 2am I realized that drinking a beer at 2am isn't the smartest thing to do. It remains unopened in the fridge, to be utilized at a later date.

The Jets ended up playing pretty well and easily won the game. The game ended at 4am.

At this point I decided that it was time to get 2 hours of sleep. The problem was that at the same time I realized that the Oilers' website was streaming the Joey Moss Cup, a sort of inter-squad scrimmage between all of the players trying out for the team. Well, I watched 2 periods of that and then fell asleep just in time for Miles to wake up crying. His problem?

"Dad, I can't see."

"Miles, it's 530 so it's still dark out."


I got back to sleep and then Jonas decided that it was time to get up for his milk. I muscled him back into bed and slept for 30 minutes.

The 3 stars of the night are....

3. The Jets Defense. Played really well and gave the offense time to make mistakes and still dominate the game.

2. The stream was smooth for most of the game. It was nice to watch football.

1. Barbara, who left with the boys around 830am and let me sleep in for a while.

God Bless the loyal fans who stay up to watch their team, no matter what time that might be; though, the smart thing to do would be to only do that once in a while.

But who am I kidding, I'm talking about football! A familiar North American cultural tradition that, though it takes away our sleep, infuses us with something much better and more reliable than sleep... magic good-feeling sentimental over hyped excitement.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

T-shirts, basketball, and NFL Predictions

They sure like their English here in China. Everywhere you look you will see people wearing t-shirts with English on them. Most of the time, the English doesn't make any sense. Here are a few that I have cataloged over the last few months:

"Sometimes I hate you."

"Bring back ma prime."


"Easy your life."

"Smart only ever had one good idea and it was stupid."

"I'm not easy but we can discuss it."
(An older lady was wearing this one. In any event, there was no discussion.)

I guess they kind of make sense. But, more so than in North America, the wearers of the shirts have no idea what their shirt is saying. Much like Americans getting Chinese tattoos.


It looks like the NBA is not going to happen this year. This is good for China, which looks to capitalize on the opportunity to sign more American players away from the league. Notable players who have already agreed to contracts are J.R. Smith and nobody else worth noting.

For me, the key to all of this is the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association). I have watched my fair share of this league on TV. Most of the teams have 1 or 2 import players already. The import players are usually big, slow American guys that weren't good enough for the NBA. There are never any flashy players in this league. The Chinese players are small, quick guys that can shoot and hustle on defense. So, basically, what you have with the CBA is a bunch of Chinese guys zipping up and down the court with a couple of big and slow import players trying to keep up. If there is ever a slam dunk in the game, the crowd usually makes one of those strange noises that signifies that most of them are unsure as to what has just happened and if it was legal and, if not, are they themselves going to be in trouble for it.

The crowd itself is much different over here. They all wear their black, brown, and grey jackets to the game. For the most part, they sit and politely applaud when a basket is achieved.

You're not going to see the speedo guy at the Dragons vs. Beijing Ducks game.

What I hope happens is that guys like J.R. Smith and whoever else plays there will inject some life into the crowd and get people excited about going to a sporting event. The Chinese love basketball and I think that they deserve some of the excitement that the world's best players can provide. It will be good for China.

On the other hand, what will happen to the NBA if they don't play this year? I, for one, am done with the NBA and all of it's marketing schemes. It's all about Lebron and I simply don't care enough to focus on him and perhaps the 3 or 4 other players they tout who apparently are much better basketball players than the 300 other players in the league.

The NBA seems to play the Lebron or Kobe card every time. How many points will Lebron score? Can Kobe win 10 Championships? Who cares? Do we ask the same questions about the Yankees? No, because nobody in their right mind would want to see the Yankees win another Championship... ever!

Well, I guess the one thing that the NBA has, much to their disappointment I would guess, is that Lebron and his buddies lost last year to a German guy. I think that stuff like that is good for the league and I just might keep one eye on things just to see stuff like that happen again. That is, if there even is an NBA this year.


And finally, the NFL season has kicked itself off!

I want to get you all excited for the season by offering you my top 18 moments of this year even before they happen. Are you ready?

1. Tom Brady throws for 500 yards in each of his first 3 games. In the forth game, someone in the opposing team's secondary holds up a giant mirror just as Tom is throwing a deep pass to Chad 85 and the ball goes through the mirror, back out where it came from and hits Tom in the groin. He misses 3 games due to the injury and the Patroits regroup by signing Doug Flutie, who in turn kicks the winning field goal the second week he is back.

2. Doug and Darren, The Flutie Brothers, will not reunite for one last show at this tailgate party.

3. Plaxico Burress leads the Jets in receiving yards. He goes out to the club to celebrate, but this time he is smart and puts his Glock 9 into the secured holster that is strapped to his leg.

4. The sports players of America agree to give this year's salaries to help pay off the national debt. I have no idea how much that would help, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't really help at all. But hey, thanks anyways, guys!

5. Randy Moss unretires and returns to the Patriots in time to demand a trade to the Raiders.

6. Mark Sanchez officially changes his name to Mark Seis.

7. Joe Flacco, QB of the Baltimore Ravens, takes time during his bye week to join forces with the Baltimore Police Department's Western District to help put Marlow behind bars for good.

8. Jared Allen takes up piano lessons.

9. At some point this season one of the players will order a Big Mac.

10. The Superbowl halftime show will be cut in half and broadcast at the end of the first quarter.

11. In order to curb amount of concussions caused by head shots, the league will require that all players strap a new device to their helmets. The new device is called the 'Con-cushion'. It is a big pillow that slides over the helmet and makes everyone look safe and, if you can believe it, even more sissy looking than Rugby players.

12. Not sure where it came from but happy it's around, players all around the league partake in the new trend of making a nice jello mold for their teammates and coaches. It isn't until week 4 that players realize that you can also put tiny marshmallows in the mold, and that the best time to do that is before you put it in the refrigerator.

13. Rex Ryan's brother Rob gets a haircut and is immediately fired by the Cowboys when they realize that he was actually just Rex all along. Meanwhile, the Jets sign their real coach,Rob, to a contract extension when he decides to grow his hair out and speed up the process with hair extensions. Extension is the key to this one.

14. Sebastian Janikowski kicks a football 'clear over those mountains'.

15. The Steelers start 0-5 and turn to other ways of making a living, most notably, stealing.

16. Someone in your fantasy league who is not paying attention all year long will end up winning the whole thing.

17. Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem at the Superbowl while sitting in a bowl of ground beef but nobody cares abo...

18. The New York Jets will win the Superbowl exactly 10 years before they select Boomer's son Gunnar Esiason in the first round of the draft. Gunnar plays half a season and then decides to pursue a career in broadcasting instead. 2 seasons later he is discovered and starts his late bloomer modeling career at the age of 26. 10 years later, on the 25th anniversary of this year's Superbowl, Gunnar announces that his new clothing line, Gunna, will be available at all Target Stores excluding locations in Canada.

Amazingly enough, 5 years later, Mark Seis is seen wearing one of the brand's t-shirts while strolling in downtown New York. It is believed that a witness claims that Mark's Superbowl ring's colors and design go so well together with the t-shirt that they could have almost been made for each other. Later on, when the media tracks down Mark for a comment, all he does is smile. Though, the joke was on him, for when he smiled he revealed a golden cap on one of his teeth. The color and the design of the tooth testified to the reliability of the witness and the rest, as they say, is history.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pavol "Nice" Demitra: is there any hope in the loss of an entire sports team?

First of all:


It's overwhelming. If the KHL doesn't matter to people, could we imagine the Boston Red Sox just dying like that? The effect that it would have on the families and the fans? The void it would leave? The questions we would all have? Why? How?


I've always loved hockey. Anytime, anywhere. Growing up we would play a lot of street hockey. I always wanted to play more than everyone else and, yes, at times I would actually play by myself. I would get the goalie gear on and 'flick' the tennis ball at myself and try to make some sort of elaborate save. My brother bugs me about this all the time, but I am proud of my commitment, dang it!

Growing up I loved the Oilers but I was also a big St. Louis Blues fan. The reason for this is Brett Hull. Besides sharing a name, we got a long great. He scored a tonne of goals and I watched him from the other side of the TV. His book, 'Brett Hull: Shooting and Smiling' was one of the first books that I read that didn't have any pictures in it. It was also a hard cover. Mom would help me read it and I would use a ruler to keep my eyes on the line I was reading.

Brett Hull scored 86 goals one year. That was quite a feat. He got together with Adam Oates to form the 'Hull and Oates' duo that ripped apart the league for a good number of years. So it was a sad day when The Blues traded Oates away to Boston for Craig Janney. Janney was good, but not 'Adam Oates' good. Brett Hull's number started to decline and the excitement surrounding him and the Blues faded with each early playoff exit.

Eventually, Hull left St. Louis and won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars after scoring a very controversial goal. Around the time Hull left, and myself and other Blues fans were wondering who would step up for the team, the Blues traded Christer Olsson to Ottawa for a young Slovakian named Pavol Demitra.


Almost immediately, Demitra became a star. During his second season with the team, Demitra was the leading scorer. A few years later he won the Lady Byng Trophy for being voted the most sportsmanlike player in the league. It's one of the trophies that Gretzky used to always win. A few years later he finished 6th in league scoring. After the NHL lockout, he signed with the Kings. Demitra finished his time in St.Louis with 493 points in 494 games.

Demitra was my favorite post-Hull Blue. Besides the fact that he was my Slovakian twin, he was also an amazing hockey player. I had hope that he would finally take the team deep into the playoffs. That never happened and since the time that he had left St. Louis the Blues have been pretty mediocre.


When Pavol was 17 years old, the USSR's strangle hold on his country finally let up. In an interview he talked about how strange that was to finally be able to watch NHL hockey on TV. He started to believe that his dream of playing in the best league in the world could be a possibility. A few years later, he began what would turn out to be quite an amazing career.

I had heard that he wasn't coming back to North America this season, that he had signed in the KHL. When his plane went down last week and I found out that he was on it, I couldn't believe that he was really gone. The tragedy of an entire hockey team being killed all at once is magnified when you grew up following one of the players so closely.

I think that often times I am not interested in a tragic news event unless I am somehow connected to it. I used to feel guilty about it. Like how North Americans followed the New Orleans flooding event so closely because it literally 'hit close to home', yet when I was in Hawaii this past year and a massive earthquake took place near my home in China, not many people in Hawaii, at an international missionary school, even knew it took place. People had died, people I knew, and nobody seemed to care.

I heard someone say that this is why we love our hometown. This is why we will always feel strongly connected to things that are familiar. Because it is our responsibility to care about what is close to us. Whether it is a place or people or even a Slovakian hockey player, we are put in a certain situation and we are told to take care of it. We have a responsibility. So, when there is an earthquake in China and nobody knows, at least I know and can tell people about it so that they will know. On top of that, you can be sure that there were a lot of people here in China that cared a lot about the people in the quake. They were taking care of what they were given.

So, when a hockey team dies in an instant, I take part in the responsibility in remembering and praying for him and his family. I cried for the guy. This is a strange thing, when someone you never met nor thought about for a long time dies. Suddenly they become dear to you. When I think about Pavol and his wife, Maja, the news that they lost a son (Tobias) in his infancy, it is all very heartbreaking knowing that his other two children, Lucas and Zara, are left without their hero of a dad. And for Maja, besides with her own health problems, the pain of losing a child and then sticking together through it all, only to have the one you stuck close to be taken away as well.

There is nothing good about a plane crash, No, "God is in control" kind of talk can convince me that this is a good thing or that I should feel okay with it. Yet, despite all of the horror, there is always hope.

I don't know what Demitra's personal beliefs were, but there is always hope for us. In believing that God never gives up on his creation I can know that there is hope for Pavol. There is hope that he and Tobias are reunited, or someday will be. It would be a much more sorrowful situation if I had to say that there is no hope. That God has given up. That once you die and don't know about God, that his love for you is distinguished, like a candle.

I used to believe this kind of thing because it seemed to be what everyone else believed. Then I remembered the stories. The stories Jesus used to try to tell the people about his Father's love. The stories of the coins and the sheep. The lost son. The father never giving up on his son, the Shepherd leaving the rest of the sheep to venture off to seek and find that stupid, confused, 'free willed' little lamb. I started to make a little more sense of the whole thing. I will always love my 2 boys, how much more does God love every one of his children?

Every tear will be wiped away. Every sorrow a distant memory.

I'm not sure how it all works, but I believe in hope. That there is hope for everyone and that that hope never burns out.

So when I picture Pavol growing up playing hockey, following his dreams, falling in love, raising children, and being a gentleman about it, I think that it would be my prayer that this guy would one day know the lover and creator of it all. The way he passed the puck was a beautiful, God-given gift. Someday, because of a loving God, the grief and misery of death will lose it's sting when the lost are found.

'Lord let your kingdom come.'